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The Stars Are Out Tonight

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You have no power over me.

The Goblin King locked his cutting gaze with her for a full heartbeat and Sarah Williams felt the world around her tremble. She could pinpoint the exact second when she knew that she had undone him - his eyes were still blazing when he vanished as if he were never there in the first place. The sixteen year old girl would not forget the way his mismatched eyes looked into her very soul for a single moment before disappearing from her life for thirteen years.

--

Sarah Williams was many things but stupid was not one of those. It took her no time at all to figure out that, even though she had won this battle, she could still lose the war. Conflicted feelings followed her around during her confused teen years – a gut feeling that protected her and a longing for something she could not have. She called her friends exactly twice – once when feeling very lonely after a sweet sixteen party and the second time to say a proper goodbye.

That first time, feeling lonely and somewhat excluded from her friend’s group, she wished for a party of her own, with her true friends. After a very brief embrace and a round of cards with Ludo and Sir Dydimus, Sarah attempted to ask why she felt different after returning from her quest. Not exactly like she didn’t belong there, but like…a shirt that once felt comfortable suddenly begins to feel small and you’re not sure if you grew up or the shirt just shrunk when drying.

Hoggle became a bit nervous then and had said that the Labyrinth had probably rubbed off on her. Being her Champion and all, it wouldn’t be absurd if she started to see things that humans normally wouldn’t or to sense the world around her a bit differently. She should always listen to her gut feeling, he said, looking very intensely into her eyes for the first time in the night.  

Being sixteen and not stupid, she listened to his advice carefully– the dwarf probably tried to convey a message of some sorts.  Later that night, when they were gone, she closed her eyes and tried to listen to her gut feeling and found it screaming a very loud message: they were being watched. Sarah didn’t put past the Goblin King to spy on her. Stories with Kings and Goblins were never truly finished until something dreadful happened, were they? The part of her that longed for something more, a hidden yearning she had only started feeling after coming back from the Labyrinth, whispered in her mind’s ear: you only need to say your right words.

Sarah understood very quickly the power that words would always have. He had no power over her but oh if her sixth sense knew something, it was that the Goblin King was probably one to hold grudges. After all, she had beaten his Labyrinth – Hoggle said they even proclaimed her their Champion. She wondered how many others had done that (does it matter, precious?, she listened the whispering voice in her mind). The last words he had uttered to her – fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slavewell, they begged her to believe that she might not be so easily foregone by him. In fact, her gut feeling  countered the lone yearning whisper in her mind, it made more sense to think of the Goblin King as he were in the Labyrinth: powerful, angry, vengeful and nothing, if not opportunistic.

He would always look for a door back into her life, and Sarah Williams – sixteen and not stupid – decided she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of finding one.  Words and wishes had dangerous powers and so she carefully threaded that line for a very long time.

--

The reckoning happened – as it would – in the thirteenth anniversary of her victory in the Labyrinth. The air had been tense all day – as if the world were holding a breath and waiting for the first thunder that would unravel a storm.

It wasn’t quite like this, but Sarah would always remember it as such. She woke up with a knot in her throat and a sick feeling in her stomach, a sort of dreadful anticipation that frayed the nerves and didn’t let her breathe properly.

Something is going on and I can feel it.

It was a thing that happened now and then: Sarah would have this strange perception – usually some sort of sixth sense. Her gut feeling seemingly evolved as the years passed. What was once a hint in the right direction now became knowledge she simply acquired or a strange nudge to do a certain thing. Once she knew that the woman that lived on the floor above woke up dead of a heart attack. Another time, she saved a cat in the nick of time before being run over (she never kept it because she was allergic).  In college, she feigned being sick before a date with a guy that later turned out to be a sexual assailant.

Usually, those pieces of knowledge dawned upon her in the last minute possible, but they were preceded by something that Sarah could almost call “an aura”: dry mouth, strange nausea, laced with a weight in her stomach, as if someone had punched it the day before.

It had never happened on the anniversary of her Labyrinth quest before and Sarah kept track of it. I wonder what it means now, Sarah mused to herself while searching for her coffee mug (she had made coffee the night before and wasting perfectly good coffee just because of some trepidation was something she refused to do). Breathing exercises did nothing to soothe her. Sarah decided to rationalize the whole thing.

“Maybe this has nothing to do with him. Maybe I’ll just save another cat. I mean… it’s been more than a decade.”

Thirteen years, to be precise.

Sarah surprised herself to hear the lone yearning whisper in the back of her mind. It had been a long time since she had heard it and for a while she had considered it gone with her teenage years, along with pimples and her inclination to make bad choices.

“Yes, well, long time, right? More than enough to forget me, I should hope. Found some other babies to steal and girls to compel, or whatever he does in his free time.”

Forget you as you have forgot him?

“…yes?”

If that is your definition of forgetting, then perhaps you might be right.”

“I don’t know what you could possibly mean.”

You argue with me as if you were arguing with him. You think of your own subconscious voice as if it had his face attached to it. Can you truly not hear it, precious?

It was true. She could almost see his mismatched eyes flickering with amusement. Her subconscious still treated him like the antagonist of her story and she supposed it fit well with the rest of her guarded personality.

“Fair enough”, she assented and downed the rest of her coffee still lukewarm in the mug. If this knot was his fault, well, she would probably do well to stay wide awake.

--

The ride to work was almost suspiciously uneventful, which of course, only made Sarah jumpy by the time she got to her neatly arranged desk at the corner of the office.

“Are you okay, love? You never come in late”, she heard as she felt a hand in her shoulder.

JesusFuckingChrist, Carmen, don’t scare me like that!”, Sarah jumped from her chair and almost knocked the woman – her boss - on the ground.

Carmen was the forty-something blonde woman who worked the desk next to her and she had a bad habit of sneaking around people. It made her more effective not only as a boss, but also as the regular gossip monger of the office.

“Wow, someone didn’t get some sleep tonight.”, she mused, quickly recovering from her almost fall and leaning on Sarah’s desk.

“You’d be right…”

“Oh, do tell!”, she wiggled her eyes suggestively.

“Ugh, not like that.”, the blonde laughed at her response and then softened her voice.

“Just a joke, dear. Seriously, though, what happened?”

Carmen could be obnoxious, a hard ass boss and the worst gossip she met, but Sarah knew that she was also a good friend. Her expectant look was laced with worry now and the young girl panicked for a second before answering her:

“I was up late reviewing the Ultimate Guide for Single Ladies”, there was a pause, and Sarah continued quickly. “You know. Our latest launch? The one supposed to happen in three weeks?”

The other woman looked at her for a moment, as if suspicious, and then sighed.

“You know what, anyone else and I’d expect this to be a lie, but honestly, from you? I believe it. And it would explain the foul mood too! But honestly, why were you reading that trash on your off time? Work should be done in the office, Sarah. “, Carmen tutted as Sarah was about to cut her. “I mean it, and as your boss, I command you. You should go out more! Enjoy life while you’re still young and with everything in place! I’m sure there are some cats you’d like to meet.”

Sarah cringed as she usually did whenever Carmen used cat as a substitute for men.

“I’m sorry?”, she offered

“Right you are. Now, work on something else, we already lost too much time with that garbage and it’s gonna come out bad like that anyway. Leave what you’ve done tonight in my desk and go find some new thing to proof. I think new work came for us overnight, you should go check with the reception and see what’s left for triage. Want some coffee? I could damn use some coffee”.

Carmen sauntered off her desk and made a beeline for the office kitchen. Sarah often wondered how the woman got to be chief-editor of the publishing house so quickly, but at times like these, she could understand the energy that drove her. It was almost supernatural. Not only she sensed the mood of her employees but she could simultaneously instill a scolding and a praise in the same sentence without even pause for breathing.

“Why did I say that I worked on that garbage anyway?”, she muttered to herself, opening her laptop to actually add something to the her latest correction so she could maintain her story.

--

Sarah had to work for an hour non-stop before announcing that she was going out for a minute and descending to the open area of the cafeteria to “smoke”.  She always added mental air quotes whenever she used that line with Carmen because, in truth, Sarah Williams hated smoking and would never do it… but since it really was a great excuse for five minutes alone, she pretended to have picked up the habit.

Pick up, pick up, pick up.

Sarah tried three times before the thirteen year old boy finally muttered an awkward hello on the other side. She always made a point of calling him in the anniversary of the happening as she started calling it to herself.

“Is everything all right, Sarah?”

“Yeah, yeah, more importantly, are you all right, Tobes?”. She couldn’t quite remember where she got the nickname but it stuck and it became a sign of affection between the two. She did remember the surprise in her parents face when she volunteered more and more to look after her baby brother – to the point where growing up, Toby would recognize her authority over her parents happily.

Leaving home was bound to happen sometime, but it wasn’t easy for the both of them. Sarah still felt protective and Toby actually enjoyed having her big sister around, but college was college and then when it was over, life had taken her in another direction and in another city. Phones were extremely helpful when dealing with the distance but they would never be quite the same thing.

Still, it helped that they could talk whenever she felt worried about him, which was almost every day, anyway.

“Something or someone strange appeared, Tobes? Anything at all you want to tell me? ”

“Everything is same as ever, sis. Mom and Dad are going to take me to a Mets game this weekend though, if you are going to swing by.”

She mellowed a little upon hearing the confirmation that nothing was wrong. They chatted a bit over school and work before she decided that the information satisfied her fears – for now – and hanged up. She always felt better checking up on her little brother. The knot in her stomach never quite undid but it eased – sometimes that was enough to go through the day.

“Everything will be fine, Sarah. This is you freaking out over nothing again.”

The rest of the morning passed by and coached her into a sense of security. After a brief lunch with Carmen, she remembered that there was new work to comb through and swung by the reception to catch a stack of papers. She was so engrossed by them that when she sat on the table, she almost missed it, the flick of her eyes going to a newly placed object, something that wasn’t there before lunch.

A book waited for her at the center of her desk.

Being an editor-in-training, the whole thing could have gone unnoticed were it not for the nameless red cover on it. Her sixth sense didn’t have to forewarn her that she should leave it alone – she had not taken leave of her senses yet. The book had a smug air about it, if it was even possible to describe it that way.

Sarah snorted.

“You believe me stupid.”

She felt as if the book were staring back at her, innocently daring her to open it. Sarah took it in her arm and walked very pointedly at her boss’s desk.

“Carmen, I am so sorry to ask you, but can you proof read the new volume that came into my desk? I just got a new pack from the reception and this one seems to be more your style anyway”, Sarah charmed herself into her colleague’s view.

“What new volume, dearie?”

Sarah could never tell if she was feigning obliviousness or not.  Carmen had perfected nonchalance to an art.

“I have no idea what is called, it’s just a red cover, but very pretty”, she replied kicking herself mentally for calling it pretty.

“I must have missed when they dropped it”, Carmen looked up from the novel she was proofing and Sarah noticed the book she should have been holding was gone. She knew she should have been surprised, but utterly found that relief was a more accurate sentiment. “Leave it on my desk and I’ll deal with it later, dearie.”

Sarah troubled herself to look for the book on her desk on the way back, just to confirm it gone.

“Nice try.”

Sarah couldn’t help to let out a laugh. She sensed someone would be very irritated about the whole exchange. The knot in Sarah’s stomach disappeared for the rest of the day.